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COC football: Where the route breaks

College of the Canyons is a pivotal point on the recruiting trail for college football players

Posted: January 31, 2010 8:44 p.m.
Updated: February 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons head football coach Garett Tujague makes phone calls in his office on Friday. Tujague and the rest of his staff send around 23 football players to four-year programs on scholarship every year.

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As soon as a football player comes to College of the Canyons, he has a goal that involves playing somewhere else.

This doesn’t bother COC head coach Garett Tujague.

He says the program’s success relies on him helping his players with these aspirations.

It’s why the program sends around 23 players each year to play at four-year schools on scholarship, according to recruiting/offensive coordinator Don Fellows.

“It’s the most important job,” Tujague says, “getting them matriculated.”

Signing day, which is the first Wednesday in February, is one of the most significant milestones in that process.

It’s an athlete’s first opportunity to sign a binding letter of intent that indicates their collegiate choice.

It can mean different things for coaches, recruiters and players.

It’s an important bellwether for the year-round duty coaches call recruiting.

For some Cougars, the day marks the end of an agonizing wait or the wooing that comes with recruitment. And for others, it means the selection process is just beginning.


Finding the right fit

Cougars sophomore offensive lineman Louiszell Alexander talks about his future as a member of the Syracuse Orange with a smile that’s big even compared to his 6-foot-5-inch, 300-pound frame.

Alexander recently gave a verbal commitment to play at Syracuse, but it becomes official on Wednesday.

“I have an auntie who lives in Albany. But basically, it’s just me out there,” Alexander says with a laugh. “I’m going alone — me and football.”

Raised in Long Beach, he grew up watching USC and UCLA, but now he can’t wait to head out east.

The Highland High of Palmdale graduate developed his technique under Tujague and his speed under strength and conditioning coach Robert dos Remedios.

He says he learned from the recruiting process as well. By last spring, he says he received attention from most of the major BCS schools.

“The contacts are really the exciting part,” Alexander says. “Letters are good, but the phone calls are the most exciting.”

But it also forced him to re-evaluate his options.

“At first, I just wanted to play in the Pac-10,” he says. “But then it became a matter of finding the right school for me to play at. … Seeing (Big East) tackles, they play more like my style of play where you have to really get off the ball well.”

His combination of size and agility left him bound for the Big East.


Colorado bound

Cougars sophomore linebacker Evan Harrington is about to finish a three-year odyssey across the country to the Big 12.

Harrington, who recently gave a verbal commitment to the University of Colorado, had no idea that’s where he’d end up when he started at COC.

As a senior at Bowie High School in Maryland, Harrington was a self-described “tweener,” or sized in between positions. At 6 feet tall and smaller than his current 220-pound size, he was quick but not quite a cornerback, and he was undersized for a prototypical Division I linebacker.

As a result, he says he was contacted from schools like Pittsburgh, Temple and Kent State, which were looking at him to play safety.

Harrington says initially he had hoped to follow family friend and current New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis to Pittsburgh.

He says his grades made schools back off through the signing day period of his senior year. With no four-year offers, he took a plane ride from Maryland to California a week after his high school graduation to play at COC.

Harrington grayshirted his first year in 2007, which is when a student sits out and takes less than a fulltime course load to preserve the year of eligibility.

Then he suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder during the first practice of the 2008 season. He had surgery last March to have it repaired, but it made schools wary again.

“A lot of schools backed off on me after I had my surgery,” Harrington says. “Coach Tujague was just telling me to stay positive, and I put my faith in him and dos (Remedios). And they were right.”

He says schools started to pick back up on him toward the end of last season, when he had 63 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and a team-leading 5.5 sacks.

He says he ultimately chose Colorado because of its style of recruitment.

“They wanted to see what type of person I was,” Harrington says. “And they said they wanted good guys first, and then they want football players, and that I had both of those qualities.”


The waiting game

COC sophomore defensive lineman Jake Tepper came to COC to raise his GPA and prepare for a major-college football opportunity.

Now, he’s more than ready to make a choice as soon as he finds the right fit.

“My freshman year (at COC) I played tight end and didn’t play defensive line until this year,” Tepper says. “I didn’t have a lot of (recruiting) attention on me.”

He has been contacted by several schools, but he expects to gain a little more insight into his future after Wednesday.

“Right now, I’m just kind of in the waiting stage,” Tepper says. “Not every school is going to get who they want, so I’m waiting to see what’s out there for me.”

The 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pound defensive lineman says it’s a tough process that can test anyone’s patience.

“I’m a very strong-willed guy and I definitely like to know what’s going on,” Tepper says. “But this part of the process has taken a lot out of me.”

Tepper mentioned a few of the deciding factors for his prospective schools: location, the quality of education and the record of the program.

“I want to go to a bowl game,” Tepper adds.


Then it starts all over again

For Tujague, this season’s annual preparation for the perpetual cycle of recruitment and advancement began last Thursday.

It kicked off with a staff meeting that lasted several hours and created “the list” — a projection of the team’s potential big-time players.

“It’s easy to tell. You know if a kid is a Division I football player or not,” Tujague says. “If they don’t have the size that’s bad, but if they don’t have the speed there’s no way. Speed can overcome a lot of things, though. Speed doesn’t usually have a bad Saturday night.”

The list goes out to every college football program and gets most players their first contacts from schools across the country.

“There have been some long shots, but you need to make that list,” Tujague says. “Now, you’re on the radar and you’re getting five or six letters from schools every day. And I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings when I say this, but (those letters) don’t really mean anything.”

If a school is very interested, its staff will often make time to drop by Tujague’s office during the season if they’re in town for a game or passing through to recruit.

Colorado defensive coordinator Ron Collins was there Friday lamenting his 48-hour turnaround before giving Harrington a few of the details about his scholarship.

Collins was in New Orleans the previous evening, Houston by morning and Tujague’s office at COC by 3 p.m. — a visit brief enough to let him a make a 7 p.m. flight back to Boulder.

“It’s our most traveled time,” Collins says, who adds he visits all of the defensive players for a school that recruits nationally.

“The recruiting thing never stops,” he says. “Right now is a contact period so we can get out and see the players, and so that’s why you’re on the road — to hang onto the recruits you have, to get the guys that haven’t decided and we’re recruiting some seniors at this time, too.”

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